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Press Release

Buxton Man Sentenced for Crop Insurance Violation, Ending Series of Four Cases Involving Potato Insurance Claims

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of North Dakota

Fargo United States Attorney Mac Schneider announced that Chief Judge Peter D. Welte, United States District Court, District of North Dakota, sentenced Darren Wade Tronson, age 59, of Buxton, North Dakota, to one year of probation for concealing a material fact in a matter within the jurisdiction of the Government of the United States.  Imposition of the sentence against Tronson resolves the final pending case related to him and his potato farming operation, which included three civil cases and one criminal case. As part of the resolution of the four cases, Tronson will forgo a $272,365 crop insurance indemnity payment for 2019, pay $10,000 restitution to the United States in connection with the settlement of his 2017 and 2018 potato claims, be barred from participation in all federal programs for ten years, and serve one year of supervised probation.   

Investigation revealed that in 2017 through 2019, Tronson planted potatoes in Grand Forks and Traill Counties, North Dakota, and purchased yield-based multi-peril crop insurance policies for potatoes through his insurer.  Tronson claimed significant losses in all three years due to alleged adverse weather events. In February 2019, after anomalous losses in 2017 and 2018, Tronson’s crop insurance provider met with him and stressed the need for Tronson to use agricultural experts and a soil fertility plan as part of general good farming practices to qualify for the payment for any losses under a federal crop insurance policy. 

Tronson did not follow through with the recommendations and instead tried to conceal the actual cause of his potato crop loss in 2019, resulting in the criminal charge. Tronson suffered a loss for his 2019 potato crop, and Tronson made a claim under his crop insurance policy based on precipitation alone.  However, Tronson willfully failed to notify his insurer that he did not follow the recommendations related to soil fertility for the 2019 crop year.  Tronson’s insurer justifiably denied more than half of Tronson’s crop insurance claim in 2019 for failing to follow the recommended good farming practices. 

The first civil case was also based on the 2019 crop year. In addition to criminally concealing the cause of his loss, Tronson sued the United States on behalf of his company, DL Farms, LLC, seeking to recover the 2019 indemnities that were withheld from him. In denying his claims and granting summary judgment in favor of the United States, Judge Welte wrote that RMA “analyzed the relevant factors and came to a rational decision, given DL Farms’ failure to conduct a soil test prior to the 2019 planting season and the evidence showing the fertilization practice was deficient in both in phosphorous and potassium.” Based on the Court’s decision, Tronson was required to forgo an additional $272,365 crop insurance indemnity payment for 2019.

The second civil case was based on Tronson’s failure to follow good farming practices in 2017 and 2018. In 2017 and 2018, Tronson’s insurer paid all of his potato claims, despite evidence the weather was not the actual cause of his losses. The United States alleged in a civil complaint that Tronson lied about the actual cause of his losses in those years, which was failure to use good farming practices as required by the applicable polices. After filing its Complaint, the United States reached an agreement with Tronson and his company to settle the 2017 and 2018 claims. The United States dismissed its lawsuit against Tronson in exchange for payment of $10,000 and his voluntary agreement to be excluded from all federal programs, including crop insurance and other farm programs, for ten years.

“Crop insurance fraud is a serious crime that hurts taxpayers and honest producers,” Schneider said. “This result is a reminder that fraud will be exposed, investigated, and dealt with criminally and civilly. The USDA Office of Inspector General and our office’s career prosecutors and civil litigators deserve credit for ensuring that justice was done.”

“The United States Department of Agriculture, Risk Management Agency (RMA), through its private partnerships serve a vital role in serving the needs of farmers following a disaster. Fraudulent activity and failure to follow good farming practices undermines this program and misdirects taxpayer funds from the purposes they were intended. It is the mission of the USDA-OIG to investigate allegations of waste, fraud, and abuse in USDA programs,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert J. Springer of USDA-OIG.

RMA Administrator Marcia Bunger said, “We will continue to uphold the public’s trust in the crop insurance program by working closely with the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice and other government agencies to ensure the successful investigation and prosecution of cases involving crop insurance fraud, waste, and abuse. The court’s determination in this case should serve as a strong deterrent to others who may contemplate similar actions.”

While the criminal charges were pending, Tronson received a Notice of Suspension From Participation in United States Government Programs. The fourth case—his challenge to the suspension—was dismissed shortly after it was filed. His ten-year program suspension is effective January 1, 2023, which was the first year of his interim suspension.

This matter was investigated by the USDA Office of Inspector General and the Risk Management Agency. The criminal case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Greenley, District of North Dakota. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Schoepf and Melissa Helen Burkland handled the civil cases.

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Contact

Terry W. Van Horn  701-297-7400  terry.vanhorn@usdoj.gov

Updated March 12, 2024